Monday, January 19, 2009

Breathe In, Breathe Out

A sea fog like gunsmoke rolls in over sleeping Greyling Bay. Five AM and the only sound is the clank of bottles in a distant milk float: the fog has choked the dawn chorus. In Prospect Cottage, Sam awakes. There was a dream but it has dissipated before he has time to remember any of it. He gets out of bed and pokes his head out through the curtains, wrapping the ends around him to keep the cold out. Somewhere out there the sun is trying to rise, but it’s going to take all day for it to force its way through.

Sam goes for a leak. His head is thick with unfocussed thoughts. Steam rises from the pan. He staggers back into bed and curls up against Melissa. A brief grunt passes through her snores, then she settles down again. Sam, though, remains awake. For him, breathing seems to take too much effort, and his body is afraid of surrendering to the auto-pilot of sleep. His heart pounds out a strange, alien rhythm—a dull irregular thudding against the dead air.

Yesterday he and Melissa argued again. Why are we staying in this damp, overpriced little cottage with fake beams and a broken-down boiler, she had shouted. What are we even doing in this one-eyed town? If he were truly honest he was wondering the same thing himself. Because we’re broke and it’s all we can afford. Because. Because. The silence between them persisted for several hours before they surrendered to desperate, unsatisfactory sex.

Sometimes Sam wakes up and imagines that Melissa is dead. She is breathing so softly that he can’t detect a single movement. So he imitates her by lying still himself, straining his ears for the slightest sound. A raging silence envelops him. Nothing. She is dead, then. It is over. And then a sudden snort and twitch and she is back to life.

But now Sam worries that it is he is the one who is dead. Perhaps this bedroom is just some after-life simulacrum, a cheap copy thrown together to ease his passage into the beyond. That would explain the fog. The universe that Sam is in right now could stop at the end of the road.

Sam places his hand on Melissa’s buttock. It is warm. It is firm. She mutters something in her sleep, and he takes his hand away. She is alive. He is alive. Breathe in, breathe out.

Jonathan Pinnock


Sally Zigmond said...

Another cracking piece of writing, full of atmosphere and imagery. I do so love visiting Greyling Bay. But it would be a relief--and this isn't a criticism of your piece, Jonathan, just a general observation--to find someone who's happy there! Perhaps I better start thinking...

Sally Zigmond said...

PS. My verification word for my comment above was 'comet.' Now, there's an idea.

Nicola Slade said...

Wait for my next piece, Sally. Happiness is creeping in via the back door!

Jane Smith said...

I could do with a few more jolly pieces... so do submit them if you come up with them, everyone. I'd be grateful. Let's try to lift the sprits of all in the Bay.

Anna Russell said...

I really enjoyed this Jonathan. There were moments in it that reminded me a little of Neruda (and if you're going to be reminded of anyone, he's a pretty good person!) - when you talk about thinking she's dead, it reminded me a little of the Neruda poem I Like It When You Are Still.

Great piece, thanks.

Anna xxx